Updated April 20, 2020
Tributes for Paul H. O’Neill:
“Paul O’Neill was a true pro. I first became acquainted with him during his service in the Office of Management and Budget, where he was a star. He advanced rapidly to become a leader in the private sector and then Secretary of the Treasury. One of the great products of the Nixon administration, Paul spoke his mind throughout his career. Thank you, Paul, for your dedicated service to our nation.”
-George P. Shultz
Distinguished Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Former Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State
“I met Paul during President Nixon’s first term when he was working on health issues at OMB. He was the pro’s pro in public service – smart, objective, and always professional, first in the career public service, and later in the policy positions he held at the highest levels of the federal government.”
-James H. Cavanaugh
Chairman, Richard Nixon Foundation
“I worked virtually dawn to dusk in 73-74 as a White House speechwriter with Paul on the health care plan which I wrote up under Paul’s watchful eye. Paul was the smartest man in Washington I ever met, besides my father, Herbert Stein and RN. He was for a long time my neighbor at The Watergate Apartments. He was a thoroughly great man and a great guy. He was never angry and always looked at every side of an argument with an open mind. The nation has lost a huge asset.”
Speechwriter to Presidents Nixon and Ford
April 19, 2020
Paul O’Neill, who served as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon administration and went on to serve as the 72nd Secretary of the Treasury, died today of lung cancer at his home in Pittsburgh. He was 84.
O’Neill’s mastery of the federal budget and penchant for efficiency stemmed from his tenure at the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon administration, of which he served as deputy director beginning in 1974 through the Ford administration until 1977. He began his public service as a computer systems analyst with the Veterans Administration from 1961 to 1966.
Early on in the Nixon administration, O’Neill worked on major domestic initiatives.
“An underpinning of Nixon policy ideas, as I saw it, was to create the fabric in the United States of what I called a ‘just society,’ equity and fairness and equal opportunity,” O’Neill said during a 2010 interview with the Nixon Foundation which can be viewed in its entirety here.
“I saw those elements present in everything that we did during the Nixon presidency, from welfare to landmark ideas about how we should provide universal health insurance to every citizen in the United States in a way that was far better than what’s come on in 2009 — to ideas of revenue sharing so that we use the progressive tax system to collect money but then distribute it in a way that was leveling in terms of fiscal capacity so that states with low income had the money necessary to perform governmental activities. The ideas of job creation that President Nixon put on the table were fundamentally about creating opportunities for people to achieve in the U.S. society and not be left behind, but to achieve on merit.”
“The ‘just society’ ideas run through like a marble cake in everything that you see that was done in the Nixon administration,” O’Neill added.
Nixon administration colleague and friend Bill Kilberg said, “I worked closely with Paul during the Nixon administration when he was at OMB and I was Solicitor for the Labor Department. He was the budget analyst’s budget analyst who rose through the ranks to the very top of OMB. Paul was scrupulously honest and extraordinarily thorough in his work. Nothing got by him and no program was safe from fair and calm examination of its performance and objectives.”
Kilberg added, “Like the President he served, Paul was as neat in his appearance as he was strict in his work. He wore pressed white shirts with a tie neatly knotted at the neck. No matter the hour or the temperature, Paul’s shirt was pressed, his tie pulled tight, his face clean-shaven, and every hair on his head in place. It was not unusual for Paul to schedule a meeting late in the day, or in the evening when he would appear crisp as at dawn and the rest of us were bedraggled. We prepared strenuously for those meetings with Paul for the same reason we respected him: because he knew as much or more about our agencies than we did.”
“Paul was in a class all his own,” said Nixon administration colleague Geoff Shepard. “He was born in a house without electricity, went to Fresno State College because his uncle lived nearby and he could have a place to stay. He joined the government as a civil servant. In those days, the old Bureau of the Budget was where top career folks often ended up, including Paul. As one of the assistant directors, he was hugely helpful with RN’s public policy initiatives, ultimately becoming deputy OMB director under George Shultz.”
O’Neill was chairman and CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa from 1987 to 1999, and retired as chairman in 2000. Prior to joining Alcoa, O’Neill was president of International Paper Company from 1985 to 1987, where he had also been vice president from 1977 to 1985.
He was sworn in as the 72nd Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush on January 30, 2001.
O’Neill was an active member of the Nixon Alumni Association and participated in three important Nixon Legacy Forum panels on such topics as President Nixon’s peaceful desegregation of Southern schools, the administration’s work and emphasis on welfare reform, and the administration’s groundbreaking creation of the Office of Management and Budget.
“Ever straight-laced and straight arrow, unafraid to do what his analysis told him was the right thing to do, that was Paul O’Neill. A great man and a great American, may his memory be a blessing,” said Kilberg.
Paul O’Neill is survived by his wife, four children, 12 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.